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Monday, 20th February 2006
Not everything ran according to plan when I visited New Zealand in February 2006. The weather and my carelessness denied me some expected highlights. Nonetheless I saw some great scenery, saw some of the endemic wildlife, and spent good times with my wife's relatives in Auckland. That was as important as anything, I like travelling distance and meeting friends. Most of my trip was arranged for me by Nature Quest. I would go with them again for wildlife and nature tours.

The first three days I had the benefit of a guide which was a real privilege. Not only did I get to see birds and other things which I wouldn't have done otherwise, but also it made the trip more human and social.
Itinerary:
Date Activity
Feb 20th Saw Dunedin in South Island, birding in local area, did Yellow Eye penguin colony, and Monarch cruise at Taiaroa Head for Royal Albatross.
Feb 21st Nugget Point, Tautuku Estuary for Fernbird, Curio Bay for NZ sea-lions and petrified forest, Porpoise Bay for Hector's dolphins.
Feb 22nd Half-day on Ulva Island (off Stewart Island in the south.)
Feb 23rd Did Mirror Lakes, Cascade Creek, The Chasm, on the way from Te Anau to Milford Sound where I did a cruise.
Feb 24th Saw Chinese cemetery at Arrowtown and Puzzleworld (good maze) at Wanaka.
Feb 25th Cadrona Pass, Haast Pass, Ship Creek, Knight's Point, Fox Glacier. Saw glow-worms at Fox Glacier which turned out to be just dots of light in the dark.
Feb 26th Walked to Franz Josef Glacier. Punakaiki for the Pancake rocks (blowholes rather hit and miss and were a miss.)
Feb 27th Lewis Pass (twice as I left stuff behind in Greymouth.)
Feb 28th Arthur's Pass on way to Christchurch to fly to Rotorua in the North Island.
Mar 1st Rotorua geothermal areas then glow-worm caves in Waitomo.
Mar 2nd Matamata for where they filmed Hobbiton for "The Lord of the Rings". Suprisingly interesting.
Mar 3rd Murawai for the gannet colony.
Stewart Island was the furthest south I've been. And worth going south - it felt like one had crossed from where nature was tamed to where wilderness reigned. So green, so lush, out of the rat race. I could easily have spent more days here. Wekas patrolled the beaches innocent of the serpents civilisation has introduced to most of New Zealand.

The "Spellbound" tour at Waitomo had a splendid glide down a subterranean river towards a waterfall - overhead the glow-worms glowed like stars. Great, and there was solid commentary from our guide about their life-cycle.
Fiordland is majestic - Doubtful Sound may have been less tourist infested but Milford Sound had stunning scenery. On the way to Milford Sound from Te Anau Cascade Creek had a wondrous beech (not true European beech) forest where green moss covered everything like unearthly snow.

To remember long are the minutes of enchanting fernbirds to appear at Tautuku Estuary. Thanks to my guide Wynston and his CD of bird songs I did eventually see the furtive striped brown avians. Perhaps not the most beautiful winged forms, but rarity and difficulty add glamour. Familiarity breeds contempt.
The weather is changeable - when it rained it rained and blew. Boat trips (like I had planned to Tiri Tiri Matangi) can get easily cancelled. Mostly the weather was fine, lovely clear air, you can see for miles, but not as hot as parts of Australia.

I stayed in quite a few homestays and very pleasant experiences they were too. They're like B&Bs but you're even more staying with the host family, you eat with them, you don't have keys. Some of the homestays were luxurious. A good way of meeting the locals who were very helpful.

Food-wise I found the potato-like Maori vegetable called "kumera" very good, and also quite liked feijoa juice. Plane food on my 36-hour journeys was dire - I barely ate.

Most of the roads in New Zealand I drove along are small winding country roads. Only in Auckland did I encounter motorways (which were congested.) The road system is good with some challenges for the visitor. There were a number of bridges with a single-lane, and even some where trains also shared the same space! At the time of my visit New Zealand had a law in effect where people turning right have priority over people turning left (they drive on the left.) I didn't get this always correct. You can also overtake on the inside.